Schools and American Society: Covid-19 Edition


I asked some educators who are my real estate clients what I should be sharing with other real estate clients about planning for schools reopening–at least partially –this September. I got some good advice on tough issues facing parents in September.

My clients are, almost by definition, privileged, because Eastern Massachusetts is the third most expensive place to live in America. My clients who can buy a house or condo — even if they struggle to do so — are in a better position economically than most people in this country.

Not surprisingly, but gratifyingly, one of my client-informants brought me to a discussion of school reopening and the risk of deepening inequality. These discussions are happening online (she pointed me to one on Facebook), other social media groups, and interpersonal groups and families.

Below is an outline of what to consider, and what you can do, to help hold the line on American education during Covid-19.

Sam Musher works at Rindge Avenue Upper School as a Library Technology Specialist. Over the years, she has been a source for me for excellent book recommendations, and deep knowledge about sustainable living. When I asked her about planning for September, her answer included an angle I want to amplify:

How do I use my privilege to advocate for a better situation for everyone in my town/state/country?

Asking questions:

Is your district considering…?”

  • …full-time in person for the youngest grades, ELL (English Language Learners), and highest-need special education?
  • …some in-person classes outdoors?
  • …a delayed start to the school year while the unbelievably complex logistics are figured out more thoroughly.
  • …any sort of regular COVID testing?
  • …using community spaces other than schools, like churches or YMCAs?
  • …assuming there will at least be a remote option for families who choose not to send their kid to school, what might that look like?

Getting answers:

  • Attend School Committee meetings or get on a list where someone summarizes.
  • Find the local parent Facebook group or other social media or community group. This is the major topic of conversation everywhere parents and teachers are.

There are no good answers. Not only are there no good answers, but the information you need to make decisions changes, day to day. Sam continues:

But honestly, I’m pretty sure most families know way too many questions to ask; the problem is that there aren’t any answers! Most of it, I think, boils down to:

  1. Accept that this will suck, and there is no Right Answer. Your child will almost certainly have a worse year than they would if there weren’t a (badly mismanaged) pandemic. Neither you nor the district nor the school nor the teacher can magic that away — there is no perfect choice (and therefore no choice that makes you a bad parent).

  2. The most important lessons your child will learn this year will be about resilience, not about academics. That’s hard in some ways and inexpressibly valuable in others.

  3. Teachers and families all want the same thing: for kids and the adults in their lives to be safe and stable and happy and learning. Direct your anger at the federal government that refused to handle this pandemic and now is refusing to pay for schools to reopen safely. 

  4. All families are in this together. Public education is for every child, so advocate for solutions that are available to families regardless of means. 

  5. Ultimately, you and your family have to make a decision you can live with. That means literally in terms of health and financial risk, but also in terms of sanity (if you’re considering leaving a job you love so you can be with your kid full-time, for example). See #1, and do the best you can.

Concrete to-do items:

Those who have the right to vote should use it. Not only in the ballot box. Besides voting, contact your elected officials. Even if your representatives are doing what you think is the right thing, contacting them helps support their work, in the face of those who contact them in opposition.

Locally, get the ear of your school committee member. Talk to your City Councilor or Town Representative, or the Mayor. Because municipal elected officials hear from a small number of people, on most matters, your voice is louder here than when you contact State and Federal officials.

  • Support small in-person classes for the youngest grades. This is the solution for all families. Paying for a tutor is a solution only for those who can afford it.
  • Speak up for vulnerable students, such as those who are special needs or are English language learners. If all parents stand together, all students can get served.

State: Stay informed about State and municipal decisions about Covid safety restrictions, school openings, housing security, and other economic matters during the pandemic. Contact your State Reps and Senators to support their efforts to keep people safe, and maintain economic stability in Massachusetts.

Federal: Encourage Senators and House members to support economic stimulus packages coming through Congress. Sam specifically mentioned the HEROES Act, which is the stimulus package from May. There is also the single payment through the CARES act. A summary of economic stimulus is here. As of this writing, the shape of unemployment payments, after Federal Unemployment ended July 31st, was still in up in the air.

Support get-out-the-vote efforts, nationally and locally. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has shown us how government policy helps or hinders everyone in America during a crisis.

This is such a hot topic that the New York Times is covering it. There are more links below.

From my real estate blog:

SchoolchildrenAfter Wednesday, August 12, you can refer to advice I shared about developing groups of families to expand your children’s social sphere safely. Safety and comfort are job one.

It takes some money, and thought, to establish the kinds of “pods” that my clients are talking about. But, shouldn’t all children have the same opportunities to be part of a community and have public education that meets their needs?

After Wednesday August 18, you can refer to advice about helping a child establish social connection if you are moving to a new school district this September.

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